Snowpiercer is a 2013 South Korean action-thriller film starring Chris Evans and directed by Bong Joon-ho. It is based off of the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige. After the majority of the inhabitants on Earth are killed and the planet is thrusted into a new ice age, the remaining survivors are forced to make a new life for themselves on the titular train, Snowpiercer.
At the beginning of the film, it is quite apparent that Joon-ho is pulling the class war card, which has been used often in the last few years. The survivors are split up and put into two distinct of the train: the tail (lower class) and the front cars (upper class). I went into this movie expecting Elysium: The Redux. Thankfully, that isn’t what I got. What I got was something far more entertaining and somewhat self-aware. It does get quite preachy at points, but makes up for it in pretty much every other way.
At the start of the movie, Curtis (Evans) organizes a revolt, spurred to action by his wise friend and mentor Gilliam, played by the always wonderful John Hurt. There are some cliché indicators of the poverty and hopelessness the tail passengers must deal with. The shamelessly overt dialogue and imagery of the first few moments of the film did not inspire me with much confidence, although Evans, Hurt, and Jamie Bell (Curis’ pal Edgar) give wonderful performances, filling a movie with ridiculous premise (more on that later) with a sense of seriousness and dread.
Thankfully, we aren’t stuck wallowing in the tail section for very long. Curtis begins the revolt when the “food blocks” are delivered. The war has begun, the revolution has a commander in Curtis and a very distinct, straightforward objective: take over the train. Throughout the film, there are several encounters with the uppity and cordial Mr. Mason, a strange woman played by Tilda Swinton. Think Elizabeth Banks’ Hunger Games character, but a complete and utter creepy psychopath. Mason is the right-hand of the mysterious Wilford, the man who created the train.
The fight sequences are pretty brutal, both sides suffer casualties. Not everyone will make it out alive. Speaking of which, I’m beginning to wonder if the film was at least partially inspired by Braveheart. There are several similarities; the charming leader, the bloodshed, the revolution against high-class oppressors, and a couple of other little things. The choreography is very well-done, invoking thoughts of The Raid and Oldboy. Every fight feels realistic. They are very, very good, and the main reason I would recommend this film.
Very early into the revolt, Curtis and friends free a man named Namgoong, the security engineer for the train, and his teenage daughter, who is psychic. Both are heavily addicted to a drug called Kronole. Namgoong agrees to bypass the security system in exchange for Kronole.
Curtis’ revolution continues moving forward strongly until Curtis is captured by Mason and forced to watch not only the massacre of several of the tail population, but the public execution of Gilliam as well. Curtis breaks free and brutally kills Mason, even more determined than before to continue on. After another brutal attack, Curtis, Namgoong, and Yona are the only ones left.
Long story short, they reach the front and Curtis confronts Wilford, who explains that the revolution was a sham to control the trains population; the plan was engineered by Wilford and… Gilliam. This is where the film goes off the rails (pun very much intended) for me. Apparently, due to the revolution being too successful, Wilford had Gilliam executed. What? You planned a bloody revolution to kill off and therefore control the population. It was quite successful in that regard. It was getting out of control, so you decide to execute your secret cohort who was close with the resistance leader, thereby making him a martyr? How does this help you at all? If Gilliam hadn’t got popped, the resistance would have easily been quelled.
Ok, so from the beginning of the movie, it’s established that the tail kids are taken up to the front, never to be seen or heard from again. As it turns out, the kids are used as “replacement parts” for the engine. This made me laugh out loud. I get it, perpetual motion engines, despite the name, cannot run indefinitely, but children? Really? Someone watched Soylent Green a bit too many times.
So they rescue a child named Timmy, and Curtis loses his hand. Namgoong is overwhelmed by a mob and decides to blow the popsicle stand, quite literally, using Kronkole, an explosive substance. The two men sacrifice themselves to protect the children. They live, and see a polar bear, meaning Earth is no longer a lifeless wasteland. Sounds uplifting, until you realize the only surviving members of the human race are a 17-year-old drug addict and an eight-year-old boy. They are doomed, and so is humanity.
Snowpiercer is a film that thankfully doesn’t get unbearably preachy, and instead lets you enjoy the ride. I’m kind of nitpicky, so I definitely did not enjoy this movie as much as others. Despite ludicrous plot holes and what I consider to be a thin plot, the film is anchored by strong performances from pretty much everyone involved and some brutally awesome action sequences. These make Snowpiercer a very entertaining film, despite what I felt to be numerous flaws.